Human Finitude & Christ’s Finished Work: The Good News That You Can’t Do it All

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I hung up the phone as a sharp pain surfaced to my chest.

Anxiety. A feeling I was all too familiar with.

It was a parent in our ministry calling about their child: a student who wasn’t feeling connected in the ministry and had no desire to be involved, without any specific reason. Immediately a familiar tape started playing in my head: “The Downward Spiral of Condemning Thoughts.” It seemed to be my brain’s favorite tape to play.

It sounded like this:

What have I done wrong? Why does this student not want to spend time with me? Is there something our ministry is lacking? Am I even being faithful to the Lord if students in my own church don’t want to meet with me? Should I even be in this job? ”

In an effort to try and eliminate this guilt, I immediately started thinking about how I wanted to add this student to the list of girls I was weekly discipling. But just that thought alone ramped up my already overwhelming feelings. I physically had no more margin or time, despite how much I desired to make it all work.

I loved my church and I loved ministry, but my job had begun to feel like a never-ending hamster wheel. No matter how much I did, there was always, always, always more to do. I was utterly exhausted. I knew if I kept going like this, burnout was on the horizon.

The Beauty of Human Limits

While I by no means have fully overcome my desire to want to do it all in ministry, there has been one word that has slowly begun to change the tape playing in my head: Finitude.

Finitude refers to “the state of having a limit or end.” Finitude means that I am a human being created with limits and boundaries. It is a necessary part of life, and it is good.

In 2018, Dr. Kelly Kapic delivered a message to Covenant College students entitled “Finitude- Facing Our Limits.”[1]

In this message, Kapic explains:

  • Denying our finitude is hurting us.
  • Our limits are a gift, not a sin.
  • We don’t need to ask for forgiveness for not being able to do everything. We need to ask forgiveness for ever thinking we could do it all.

This idea is not original to Kapic; finitude is highlighted all throughout Scripture. Consider just some of my favorite verses that remind me of the reality of who I am when I am tempted to think I am limitless:

Genesis 3:19: You are dust, and to dust you shall return.

Psalm 138: For he remembers our frame, and remembers that we are dust.

Psalm 127: It is in vain you go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil, for he gives to his beloved sleep (Juxtaposed with Psalm 121:4: Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep).

The Beauty of a Limitless God

God is infinite and limitless. Human beings (clearly!) are not. It only takes a few all-nighters, a church retreat week, or a difficult conversation with a student to be confronted boldly with the fact that I am not God.

Yet, when I believe I can reach every student flawlessly, say yes to every invitation, or have the perfect answer to every question a student has, I am buying into the insanity that I, a human, am as infinite and limitless as God.

When I live in the lie that I can do it all, I am really saying I believe I am on God’s level. Even more than that, I am believing that God is lacking without my help—as if the God who made all Heaven and Earth could be lacking in anything.

This is why embracing our limits is an act of worship to God, as Kapic says. Shutting down our laptop. Telling a student, “Not today, can we try for later?” when they ask you for coffee on your day off. Not responding to a text at 11pm. These are acts of worship, as we embrace our limits and glory in our Limitless Savior.

Not only do our limits in ministry serve as worship to God, Scripture reminds us that even our weaknesses and failures serve to showcase God’s infinite power. As David Murray says in his powerful book on burnout in ministry, Reset: “Ministry is fertile ground for failure; and failure is fertile ground for ministry.”

I am reminded of 1 Corinthians 12:9, where Paul speaks of his painful ministry experiences. “But [God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. ”

If we are not confronted with our own shortcomings, we will miss the sweetness of the gospel. But when we are honest about our own failures and imperfections, we create an atmosphere where our students can be honest, too, and experience the power of the gospel through their failures.

As we come face to face with our shortcomings, weaknesses, and days of exhaustion, we are driven to our knees and to cry out to our God who never grows tired (Isaiah 40:28). His power and glory are showcased all the more as he uses us weak vessels to proclaim his worth and infinite ability.

When we miscommunicate with a staff member, hurt a student’s feelings, or miss a deadline, we are in a position to look up and remember that our value and worth do not come from our performance in ministry, but only from the fact that we are God’s children, perfectly loved by him.

Those of us in ministry have the joy of working out of this truth. Our status before the Father is secure on our busiest day as much as our laziest. Whether we judge our weeks as incredibly successful, or if we feel as though we are not making a lick of a difference in students’ lives, God’s love for us hasn’t moved an iota.

In ministry, our job is never finished. There is always another student or parent to meet with, always another book to read, always another lesson to prepare, always issues that desperately need to be covered in prayer… you get the point.

That is why the best news for those in ministry to cling to is that we serve a Savior who cried on the cross, “IT IS FINISHED.” And we did not even lift a finger to make it happen.

Dear student minister, God is not calling you to save your students. He is calling you to point them to the only One who can. He is not calling you to be what only he can be- he is calling you to lay your head on the pillow of his sovereignty and rest in knowing that he is God, and you are not. This is good news.

May the words of 2 Corinthians 12:10 cover us this 2022 ministry year: may we be content in our weaknesses and rest in the love of our perfectly strong Father as we embrace our limitations and glory in his limitless love and power.

 

[1] A side note: Kapic’s book on this topic comes out this January, which you can find out more about here: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/reviews/youre-not-enough/)

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